Caltech geobiologist and MacArthur Fellow Victoria Orphan sheds light on the tiny single-celled organisms that help keep Earth’s climate in check.
Featuring C-DEBI scientist Julie Huber.
In just about every nook, cranny, and crevice of our planet, some sort of life manages to thrive—whether it’s under an Antarctic ice sheet, in super-salty Arctic water, or in Chile’s Atacama desert, one of the driest and harshest environments in the world.
A US scientist has found something living in another surprising place: in the rocky sediment deep under the Atlantic Ocean, 50 to 250 meters beneath the seafloor, which is itself under 4.5 km—that’s more than 2.7 miles—of ocean water. With no sunlight and few nutrients, not to mention extreme pressure, you won’t find fish or many other creatures that deep.
These tiny microbes can eke out a living in deep ocean sediment and rock. Learning about them could help us find life in bizarre environments on other planets, too.
The findings stem from the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Collectively, the researchers describe a wetland-like area beneath the ice. Subglacial Lake Whillans is primarily fed by ice melt, but also contains small amounts of seawater from ancient marine sediments on the lake bed. The lake waters periodically drain through channels to the ocean, but with insufficient energy to carry much sediment.